Sunday, September 23, 2012

Etrog Harvest 5773 - 2012

Welcome to our Etrog Harvest of 5773 - 2012. 

My husband, Israel,  is a first-generation etrog grower. He's been growing etrogim since our third son Natah was 13 years old. He's 27 now. :)
Actually you can read the story and watch a movie right here:
or here:
Harvest in Efrat
Every year, B"H since the trees had been planted for more than four years, we've been blessed with etrogim (citron fruits). Sometimes our harvests are very large. It's difficult to believe that we can B"H grow so many gorgeous etrogim in Efrat, Gush Etzion, with its changeable and wintery-cold climate. This year the harvest was modest. Our yield was small, but there quality was big, B"H. And there are still a few on the tree that might grow big enough to qualify before Sukkot next week, BE"H.
A few times, we were blessed with enough for our family and also to auction them off for charity. Those years truly showed our etrogim as mitzvah trees in a different way.
This year, we had a boutique harvest, and we thank Hashem that we've got just enough for our children, plus possibly a few late bloomers.
It's also been the year of the funny-shaped etrogim. We've had quite a few on the tree.
Usually etrogim are oblong (shaped sort of like a fat spinning top) with a point at the end. Many varieties have a pitom, which is a protrusion at the end, but our etrogim are Yemenite and them are pitom-less.
This year, we had more than our usual amount of Gonzo-shaped etrogim with funny noses. While we can't use the uniquely shaped etrogim for the holiday, as part of the four species - the long shake-able lulav (date palm frond), etrog (citron), hadassim (myrtle branches) and aravot (willow branches) - we'll probably eat them or make them into yummy etrog jam. 
We read  in Vayikra (Leviticus 23:40), "You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a citron tree, the branches of date palms, twigs of a plaited tree, and brook willows; and you shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-d, for a seven-day period."
So, we've now harvested our etrogim, we've begun building our Sukkah, and BE"H, next week we'll find the other species that will join our etrog for a perfect Four Species Combo.
We feel very grateful that we have the merit to use etrogim, which we (royal we, as in my husband) babied and tended and grew himself in the soil of Eretz Yisrael.
B"H, it just doesn't get better than this. Shana tova.

You can watch this year's harvest here:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Blow, Gabriel, Blow - Blow that Shofar

Yesterday and today were the beginning of the new year, Rosh Hashana, referred to in the Torah as "Yom Teru'a" (a day of shofar blowing). (Numbers 29:1) 
The blast of the shofar is meant to awaken the Jewish people to repentance, and declare to the world the reaffirmation of G-d as King of the Universe.

Not Just Any Horn
Jews all over the world ushered in the new year by listening to 100 sounds of the shofar, most commonly a ram's horn. But a shofar can be the horn of any animal whose horn can be hollowed out. Antlers of solid bone, or the horn of a cow are not valid.
Jews of European decent usually blow the short Nike symbol-type horn, while Jews of Arabic or Spanish countries usually blow the low twisted shofarot.

The shofar craftsman heats the shofar, hollows the horn, makes a whole in the tip and then twists it back into shape, shines it up, tests its blow-ability and readies it for market.
My family visited a very unique shofar manufacturer, Kol Shofar, on the Golan Heights. The owner of the factory, Shimon Kinan, travels all over the world to gather horns of every sort in order to make all types of shofarot (horn pipes). 
Of course, Shimon makes thousands of the traditional ram's horns, but he's also accumulated horns of every sort from across the globe. Not all of them are suitable for halachic (regulation) shofar blowing.
Blasted Memories
Each shofar blast reminds us of a myriad of events in Jewish history (past and future): the ram that was sacrificed in place of Isaac, after his father bound him on the altar on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22); the Jewish nation's acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai, when "the sound of the shofar continually increased and was very great." (Exodus 19:19); the words of the prophets whose admonitions are like the call of the shofar; the ingathering of the exiles, which will be accompanied by the blast of a shofar (Isaiah 27:13); the resurrection of the dead, which will also be accompanied by the sounding of the shofar (Isaiah 18:3).
The Sounds of the Shofar
The congregation stands silently as the shofar blower does his best to sound a long combination of notes, made up of tekiah, teruah, and shevarim, each with their specific type of blasts. Even children at play run to the door of the synagogue to hear the sounds of the shofar.
It is a moment for which everyone waits an entire year, and the wait is rewarded with a mesmerizing sound that reverberates to one's very soul.
 "Amid thunder and lightning You were revealed to them and with the sound of shofar You appeared to them...the sound of the shofar was very strong, and the entire people in the camp trembled. (Exodus 19:16)
And the Jewish people pray that G-d will hear the shofar sound and look on His people with mercy. May it be so.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Efrat - What's in a Name?

When we moved to Israel 20 years ago, we came directly to a town in Gush Etzion, named "EFRAT". Well, we thought it was named "Efrat". But from the moment we arrived, we found out that there was a controversy about the name of our town.
Most residents called it Efrat, but the government called it "Efrata". Some signs said, "Efrat," and some said, "Efrata."
Places in Israel are very often named after their ancient location in the Bible. Efrat, with a population of more than 1500 families, is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary. It stands next to Bethlehem, where the Matriarch Rachel was buried. It is the place where King David shepherded his sheep, where Ruth gleaned her barley in the field of Boaz.
The first reference to Efrat is in book of Genesis, 35:19, "And Rachel died, and was buried on the road to Efrat, which is Bethlehem." The Hebrew words "on the road to Efrat" is "derech Efrata". The "a" means "toward" in Hebrew.
But there are debates by people who understand grammar, and those who understand the Tanach (the Bible), and those who have different opinions in every direction. Did Rachel die on the road to Efrat or on the road to Efrata? I don't know.
In the book of Ruth 4:11, there's no mention of going "to" anywhere, and yet we read, "...May you prosper in Efrata and be famous in Bethlehem."
Plus, in Psalms 132:6, we read, "Behold, we heard it in Efrata..."
So, where have I lived for the past 20 years? Well, if you looked at road signs, I lived in Efrata. But if you asked me, I lived in Efrat.
Finally, the debate is over. Israel's State Commission on Names has decided recently that the official name of my soon-to-be-city is "Efrat".
Hooray, now I know where I am - Efrat, the capital of Gush Etzion, the heart of Judea, the home of our forefathers and our great-grandchildren, IY"H. 
Efrat - a town of chesed (loving kindness) that is connected to our Jewish heritage and history, no matter how you spell its name - Efrat!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pina Chama Perfection - Bestest Day at the Soldier's Hospitality Hut

For the past 11 years, my partner-in-volunteering Jill Kuchar and I have  served in the Pina Chama, the soldier's hospitality hut, at the Gush Etzion Junction.
Our mornings in Pina Chama are always fabulous. We get to meet IDF soldiers and reserve soldiers from all over the country. We chat with all sorts of servicemen who are protecting citizens from near and far. 
This week with Jill and my daughter, Bati, who had a day off from college, we had an extra terrific time!! 
Interesting Folks
Everyone who came in during our shift seemed fascinating. 
We had a soldier who's lived all his life in a town of 13 families on the Egyptian border. He loves it. He said it's like paradise, not scary at all, filled with panoramic views that you'd want to photograph all the time. He said that now for the first time (because of the Sudanese infiltrations), they're having a fence put up between their hamlet and Egypt. 
We had a lovely bunch from Hebron, who are very happy that thousands are coming to Me'arat HaMachpela (the Cave of the Patriarchs) to pray during this month of Elul and late night  Selichot services.
We had soldier whose shift kept him up all night, and who stepped in to the Pina Chama for a hot drink before he went to sleep for the day. He place his tea on the table beside him, and then stepped over to the corner and quietly prayed. His comrades sat silently watching him with great respect.
For our Soldiers & From our Soldiers
Every morning folks pop into Pina Chama with homemade cakes, cookies and pies. About 300 women from throughout Gush Etzion/Efrat are baking-volunteers. This week the mother of a groom brought in the cake from the previous evening's wedding. Mazel tov.
We were presented with a new tag (that's an Army-type gift) cause the soldiers love us. You see, when different army units finish their tour of duty in the area, they leave us with a gift to remember them by. Usually it's a hat or a tag or a flag. We hang them up for all see.

Visit by the Speaker of the Knesset
Topping off the day at Pina Chama was a surprise visit from the Honored Speaker of the Knesset Mr. Ruby Rivlin, the Mayors of Efrat and Gush Etzion - Oded Revivi and Davidi Perl - and many other distinguished guests.
We were called about 90 minutes beforehand and told to clean up extra-specially well, because we were going to have a guest. We washed down the tables, swept the floors, even swept the porch. But there were so many soldiers on that shift, we worried that we couldn't clean up fast enough, but we did.

And when I went outside to survey the cleanliness of the area, I noticed that our wall, bearing the cartoon character Srulik in an army uniform, was splattered with mud. I ran to the car and grabbed the diaper wipes in the trunk, and washed Srulik down until he was bright and shiny.
Our company arrived much earlier than we expected, but we were ready just the same. The Pina Chama shined. The cake slices were lined up like soldiers. The slush machine was filled to capacity. 
The Speaker, the local Mayors and several photographers poured into the hut with an excited air. Mr. Rivlin shmoozed with the soldiers that were taking a morning break at the Pina Chama. Boy, were they surprised.
Then the Speaker walked up to the "bar" and greeted us warmly. I made Mr. Rivlin a cup of coffee (one sugar), but he passed on our cakes. He asked how many soldiers usually visit Pina Chama - "300 a day" - and how many volunteers we have - "300 a month and another 300 a month baking."
His visit was all of five minutes long, but in those five minutes, the Mayors told him about the history of the place - created as a memorial to Dr. Shmuel Gillis of Carmei Tzur and kibbutznik Tzachi Sasson of Rosh Tzurim - and even about the surrounding area, which includes a supermarket, called Rami Levi in which Jews and Arabs shop peacefully together.
As Mr. Rivlin was leaving, my daughter/partner, Bati, told me to rush after him and present him with a Pina Chama apron. I did!! And he put it on!! Yay!!
I caught him right off of our porch, standing in front of Srulik!! Was I glad that I washed him down!
The Speaker and his party were off as quickly as they arrived.

And our shift ended just perfectly.

Photos by a) Bati Katz and b) courtesy of Gush Etzion Mayor Davidi Perl's office.

20 Years in Israel

Shana tova!! 

My family would like to wish each of you the most blessed New Year, IY"H, filled with good health, happiness, hatzlacha (luck), parnasa (prosperity) and shalom (peace). 
20 Years in Israel
This week marks the 20th anniversary of our family's Aliyah (photo at left, 1992). We thank Hashem for giving us the privilege of living in Eretz Yisrael. B"H, we have worked for the past 20 years to be worthy of that zechut (merit). 
Our family wanted to remember this blessing in a special way, so we reflected back on the highlights of our 20 years here – our activities and activism in Torah, education, service, Eretz Yisrael, tzedakah (charity) and chesed (good deeds). B"H, bli ayin hara!! 
Together, as a family, we have put together a list of 20 Israeli charities - from across the Jewish spectrum (just like our family) - in which we have been involved. This is our achdut tzedakah (unity charity) list.

We have decided to make a 20 Year Anniversary Project and LAUNCH our NEXT 20 YEARS of chesed (acts of loving kindness).  We asked anyone who wished to join in our 20-something charity idea to come on board, and we hope that together we'll all be able to make a difference - and not even in the amount of money, but the idea of unity between different communities and different social needs here in Israel.

20 Something
Anyone and everyone can join in our 20-something campaign – (with 20 of anything - 20 NIS, 20 dollars, 20 rubles, $20,000 :), even 20 coins of whatever – you get the idea – something TWENTY). 
All these dollars, shekels, rubles, euros, pesos will be combined, divided by 20, and sent equally to each of the projects listed below (in alphabetical order). 
Two of our friends volunteered to manage the 20s. We thank them, and we hope they'll be very busy.

1. Alut Jerusalem Hostel 
2. Beit HaLochem soldiers' rehabilitation 
3. Beit Knesset Talmon 
4. Beit Knesset Tiferet Avot 
5. Beit Sefer Even Ezer in Nocham 
6. Beit Sefer Orot Etzion in Efrat 
7. Committee for Gush Katif Bridal Showers 
8. Dames of the Dance kimcha d'pischa thru Keren Gush Etzion 
9. Keren Efrat projects 
10. Keren Yeshua chesed program 
11. Keter Melucha Seminary for Russian girls in Ramot 
12. Kupat Matan Bseter Meitzad 
13. Meitzad Kehilla Project 
14. Pina Chama soldiers hospitality hut 
15. Raise Your Spirits Theatre 
16. Sderot Media Center 
17. Women for Israel's Tomorrow (Women in Green
18. Yesha Canine security program 
19. Yeshiva Ateres 
20. Yeshiva Kol Torah 

Our family is proud of the way we've spent the past 20 years in Israel, and look forward to the next 20 and beyond, IY"H. 
If you'd like to join in our 20s project, just email me and let me know. 
Meanwhile, you (our readers and friends) are all a part of what has made the last 20 years so special for us.
Our best wishes for a happy healthy prosperous and peaceful new year.

Pear Harvest Memories

My father-in-law, obm, (above, my husband and his father) was a kind and gentle man. He loved nature, his family and walking through the supermarket to see all the new items on the shelves.
He planted a pear tree that never bore fruit. No matter what he did, no fruit.
My father-in-law became ill, very ill. He went from hospital to hospital and with complications and the way unfortunately some illnesses go, the doctors said that not only would he not recover, but there was no reason for him to be in the hospital any longer.
My husband asked his father, "Father, is there anything I can do for you? Is there anything that you want?" His father replied with a smile, "I'd like to see pears on my pear tree."
Before my husband picked his father up from the hospital to bring him to rest at home, he went to the supermarket and bought a bag full of pears, and hung up the pears with rubber bands all over the bare tree.
When they returned from the hospital, my husband wheeled his father into the yard to show him the pear tree. My father-in-law laughed and cried simultaneously, as he saw dozens of pears gaily dangling from his tree.
When my father-in-law passed away, there was one thing we wanted - the pear tree.
My eldest son, may he live and be well, planted it in our front yard on the holiday of Tu B'Shevat (the holiday of the trees). For years it stood barren, just as it did in my in-law's backyard. Then one day while we were chatting in front of the house, I noticed little balls on the pear tree. "Quick," I said, "Call the gardener. Something is terribly wrong with the tree. It has these things on it."
We looked closer and realized that those little balls were pears. Our joy knew no bounds (really). We saw the tiny pears and could only think of my husband's father. We drenched the soil with our tears.
That year, we had a beautiful crop of pears, and we put two pairs each in a plastic bag, and distributed a pair of pears and a pair of blessings to each of our neighbors.
This year, because of the drastically hot weather, we have only a few pears. But we cherish them as we did that first crop.
So, we offer to you again, a pair of pears, and a pair of blessings for the new year.
** May you and those you love have a year of good health.

** May you and those you love see peace in Jerusalem and the world.

Shana tova to all and a happy healthy prosperous safe peaceful new year.
From the Katzes and our pear tree